Publication Details

Taylor, N. A.S.., Peoples, G. E. & Petersen, S. R. Load carriage, human performance, and employment standards. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. 2016; 41 (6, Suppl. 2): S131-S147.


The focus of this review is on the physiological considerations necessary for developing employment standards within occupations that have a heavy reliance on load carriage. Employees within military, fire fighting, law enforcement, and search and rescue occupations regularly work with heavy loads. For example, soldiers often carry loads >50 kg, whilst structural firefighters wear 20-25 kg of protective clothing and equipment, in addition to carrying external loads. It has long been known that heavy loads modify gait, mobility, metabolic rate, and efficiency, while concurrently elevating the risk of muscle fatigue and injury. In addition, load carriage often occurs within environmentally stressful conditions, with protective ensembles adding to the thermal burden of the workplace. Indeed, physiological strain relates not just to the mass and dimensions of carried objects, but to how those loads are positioned on and around the body. Yet heavy loads must be borne by men and women of varying body size, and with the expectation that operational capability will not be impinged. This presents a recruitment conundrum. How do employers identify capable and injury-resistant individuals while simultaneously avoiding discriminatory selection practices? In this communication, the relevant metabolic, cardiopulmonary, and thermoregulatory consequences of loaded work are reviewed, along with concomitant impediments to physical endurance and mobility. Also emphasised is the importance of including occupation-specific clothing, protective equipment, and loads during work-performance testing. Finally, recommendations are presented for how to address these issues when evaluating readiness for duty.



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